SEVEN - by

Three days into 1995, the Sexiest Man Alive smashed into a windshield. Brad Pitt was shooting a chase scene on the L.A. set of Seven when he slipped on the rain-slicked hood of a car, rammed into the glass, and severed a tendon in his hand, requiring an emergency ward visit and several stitches. 'I'm not going to tell you what I said,' cracks producer Arnold Kopelson (The Fugitive). 'Some expletive.' Although Pitt returned to the set in a few days, Kopelson had a right to worry. As he got closer to making Seven, a tale of two detectives tracking a serial killer who slays his victims according to the seven deadly sins, Pitt went from being the cute guy who seduced Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise to the cute guy who seduced half of America with Interview With the Vampire and Legends of the Fall. Suddenly, the flaxen-haired stud-muffin from Missouri had become a star -- and Seven was supposed to be Kopelson's lucky number.

But getting Pitt to play crop-topped, gung ho rookie detective David Mills amounted to more than a stroke of luck. ''We had lots of discussions of his character before we had him locked into the movie,' says Kopelson. 'It was not just an actor taking a job because we're paying him a lot of money.' Indeed Pitt, famously finicky with screenplays, had rejected a score of offers before banking on Seven -- a $30 million movie that could bolster his thespian cred but baffle his teenybopper fans. 'It's a dark and moody film,' says Freeman, who plays lonesome, burned-out sleuth William Somerset. 'There's a very serious mood to it, dark and dank and rainy and somber.'

It's a mood born of reality. Now 30, Andrew Kevin Walker wrote Seven four years ago while manning the counter at Tower Records and living in New York City, where he saw a veritable parade of sins every day on his way home from work. 'It was a depressing time for me,' the writer admits. Although Seven takes place in a bleak, nameless metropolis, its Gotham gloom resonated with Kopelson. The producer snatched the screenplay away from Penta, a financially strapped Italian company, and brought it to New Line. After director Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon) bowed out, Alien 3's Fincher, best known for Nike commercials and Madonna videos, signed on -- and instantly won the writer's heart. 'One of the first things he said,' Walker recalls, 'was that he wanted to go back to the first draft.' Oh, one minor change: On screen, you'll see Pitt's character sporting a cast on his arm after a clash with the villain. 'He wasn't supposed to break his arm, but that's what we've done,' says Kopelson. 'We worked his injury into the story line.' (Sept. 20)

BUZZ: Bloody. Good.